By Bob Flynn
Register Sports Writer
The 44th District girls soccer title last year came down to another classic cross-county battle between Madison Central and Southern.
The Lady Indians edged the Lady Eagles in a shootout in the championship game to finish the regular season and tournament sweep.
Heading into the 2013 season, Central and Southern look to once again be the cream of the crop in the district.
Central will have to defend its title without five departed seniors, including its starting goal keeper, but coach Chris Dunham still has a full arsenal of talent at his disposal.
The Lady Indians return seven seniors — Abby Helwig, Leeanne Ogle, Katelyn Raider Emery, Sarah Shackelford, Taylor Sterling, Maryssa Stewart and McKenze Stewart — who all played significant varsity minutes last season.
Central has a deep, veteran bench as well, with a group of primary substitutes who are all juniors and seniors.
“We are returning three starters on the backline who have been together for three seasons now and have proven themselves at the varsity level over and over. That is a huge advantage,” Dunham said. “We have some juniors and seniors who will be coming off the bench as our primary subs, so I think we have better depth than we had last year which is going to contribute when we get into tight games in the second half.”
Central will get scoring from several positions, Dunham said, with senior strikers Ogle and Maryssa Stewart and midfielders Emily Willoughby and Helwig expected to lead the way.
Dunham said his team is using the district title defense as incentive heading into this season.
“Winning the district title was a big turnaround for our school. They hadn’t won in a while and we want to hang onto it so I think they will put in another fight to defend the title,” Dunham said. “These girls have been playing together for a long time, so there is no pressure to defend the title. I think it is going to be an added incentive to hang onto it and make them work even harder.”
Dunham said he fully expects it to come down to Central and Southern in the district again, which is always fun for the fans.
“There is no question it will be us and Southern. The girls on the team know it will be them and they look forward to it,” Dunham said. “It’s has always been close games everytime we play them and we expect nothing different. It’s fun to watch, but it’s heart attack city for the coaches.”
Madison Southern (17-4)
The Lady Eagles enter the season looking to regain the district title they lost in heartbreaking fashion last year.
Southern lost five seniors, but have a deep team, including five seniors — Ryley Barger, Kelsie Barrett, Brooke Edmister and Satora Hill — as well as 12 juniors, returning for coach Katy Cress.
The Lady Eagles depth took a hit when Barrett tore her ACL the second day of camp, but Cress said she still feels good about her team’s chances.
“We will miss Ryley a lot, but I expect big things from our other three seniors, and we have a large junior class who got a lot of playing time last year,” Dunham said. “We may not be as deep as we have been in the past, but we still have a lot of experience returning, so I don’t look for it to be a problem.”
Cress said the Lady Eagles’ defense will be the strong suit this season.
“I think our defense will be very, very strong and we’ll get some strong leadership from our captains, Kate Freel, Krystyn Murphy, Rachel Ramey and Ryley (Barger),” Cress said.
On offense, the Lady Eagles will get scoring from several positions and Cress said she expects big things offensively from sophomores Karrigan Moberly, Chesney Sipple and juniors Mikki Clark, Nicole Taylor and Ramey.
“Rachel is very strong at the center midfield position and although they are younger, Karrigan, Chesney, Mikki and Nicole probably have the most experience, so we’ll depend on them for some scoring as well.”
Cress said the close loss to Central in the tournament will serve as motivation for her team.
“Finishing second to Central and then losing the tournament in the shootout, gives these guys a little bit of added incentive going into this season,” Cress said. “The rivalry continues between Central and Southern every year. We’ve been back and forth, back and forth over the years, so that keeps us on our toes.”
Berea Community (12-5-1)
The Lady Pirates will be looking for their sixth consecutive winning season.
Berea lost five seniors to graduation, but return five seniors — Taylor Powell, Andrea Lagrange, Holly Musick and Hope Tarter — from last year’s team, as well as Sarah Fossett, who did not play last season.
The Lady Pirates picked up two additional players this week, sophomore Rachel Hughey and freshman Jordan Sandefur, which coach Jerry Bingham said will help the team’s depth.
Berea will also have freshmen Conner Coyle and Izzy Whatley on the offensive end, Bingham said. Other than that, the Lady Pirates will be relatively inexperienced.
“Beyond our seniors and freshmen, we have a great group of sophomores and juniors who have played quite a bit, but just don’t have varsity experience yet,” Bingham said.
Powell, the lone returning scorer for the Lady Pirates, with 58 career goals, will once again control the middle for Berea, and Musick will man the net as goalkeeper, but the other positions, Bingham said, are up for grabs.
“Other than those two positions, everybody else is just fighting for spots,” Bingham said. “We are using these preseason scrimmages to try to figure out who is playing where because we have so many new faces.”
Having so many players fighting for playing time is a blessing and might prove to be one of the team’s best assets, Bingham said.
“Even though we are trying to figure out a lineup, I think we have a lot of interchangeable parts, so we can really put people in different positions, which will be one of our strengths,” Bingham said.
Another thing his young team has going for it, Bingham said, is his players attitudes and desire to get better.
“I really like this team. The kids are very coachable and they work really hard, they practice hard and they push one another,” Bingham said. “Hopefully that is going to translate into the season and make us better. We are going to figure it out as we go along, but as long as they are working hard I think they will figure it out and have a good year.”
The Lady Patriots are once again the youngest team in the district and enter the season under the direction of first-year coach Mike Bailey.
Model has no seniors on the team that features five juniors, 12 sophomores and three freshmen.
The Lady Patriots were winless last season, but Bailey said he has been impressed with the mindset his players have had in the preseason.
“They have a great attitude and work ethic and they are very positive about practice,” Bailey said. “Last year sure could not have been fun for the girls, so we are going to try to bring some fun back in the program and trying to bring the program back to where it can be competitive.”
Junior Kylee Miller is one of Model’s strongest defenders and will be counted on to provide leadership for the young Lady Patriots, Bailey said, as well as center-mid-fielder Ruby Smith.
He has also been impressed with the play of newcomer Haley Hunt, who is playing soccer for the first time and will man the net for Model.
“Haley Hunt has never played soccer in her life and it is amazing how well she is doing,” Bailey said. “She’s special and very coachable and I think she will be another leader of this team.”
Bailey said his biggest challenge thus far has been rebuilding the players’ confidence in themselves and their ability, but he feels like that will come.
“Our emphasis right now is not on winning, it’s about being competitive and them feeling like they can be in the entire game,” Bailey said. “I believe that if we can just get a win early in the season it would go a long way in making the team a whole lot more confident the rest of the season.”
Bailey admits his team is a work in progress, but thinks it can have some success before the season is over.
“I think with the talent we have and with some more work and training, I see us winning some games this year,” Bailey said. “I think we are going to surprise some people. We may not surprise a lot, but I think we are going to surprise some.”